Cigarette Companies Use Color to Convey ’Mild’ Message

Federal law will soon bar cigarette companies from using terms like ’mild’ and ’light’ to describe their products, but marketers are using pastels and other soft color schemes on packaging to convey the same impression, the Boston Globe reported Oct. 8.

Pall Mall Lights, for example, are now called Pall Mall Blues and are encased in a royal-blue package. The former Salem Lights are now dubbed Salem Gold Box, with the color scheme shifted from kelly green to pastels and white.

Critics see the new designs as an attempt to subvert the new tobacco-advertising laws that will be enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Company officials deny that. “By using designations such as colors, that makes it possible for retailers and adult tobacco consumers to clearly identify the different styles moving forward,” said David Howard, a spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds.

However, research in countries with similar laws finds that smokers believe that cigarettes sold under names like “silver,” “gold” and “smooth” are safer than others and less addictive. “These tricks are now well-established,” said Stanton Glantz, a tobacco-control expert at the University of California at San Francisco. “The real question for the FDA is, are they going to let them get away with these shenanigans?” An FDA spokesperson said the agency is aware of the issue and will “thoroughly review the use of descriptors, including the use of color.”

“You don’t need McDonald’s written under the golden arches to know it’s McDonald’s,” said marketing expert Douglas Quintal of Emerson College. “In my estimation, that’s what the tobacco industry’s banking on, that consumers will read beyond the gold and the new naming and look at the new package and say, ’Yeah, that’s low tar, that’s low nicotine.’”

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